FAQs: PANDEMIC UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE (PUA)
Updated on May 26, 2020
The CARES Act includes a Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program expanding unemployment benefits eligibility to business owners, self-employed workers, and independent contractors, including most REALTORS®. This means if you’re unable to work as a direct result of the pandemic and you aren’t eligible for ordinary unemployment insurance benefits, you may be entitled to PUA benefits.
There are broad categories of eligibility such that most agents and brokers whose work is adversely impacted by COVID-19 may be eligible for some benefits. However, you still must meet the criteria. C.A.R. as been working diligently to get you as much information as we can, however, there are still a number of questions for which we don’t have answers yet. This page continues to be updated regularly as soon as soon as additional information become available.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Is PUA available to agents and brokers?
Yes, if you meet the criteria.
What are the criteria you must meet to qualify for PUA?
You must not be traditionally eligible for unemployment compensation in California or any other state
You must have exhausted any other unemployment benefits, if applicable
You can’t be receiving paid sick leave, such as State Disability Insurance, or any other paid leave benefits, such as Paid Family Leave benefits
You must not have the ability to work remotely with pay
You must be a U.S. citizen or is legally permitted to work in the U.S. at the time services were performed and for any week of PUA benefits claimed
Most importantly, you must be unable to work because of COVID-19
What does it mean to be unable to work because of COVID-19?
You must meet one of the following criteria:
You’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis
You can’t reach your place of work as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency
A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19
You’re providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID–19
You’re unable to work because a health care provider advised you to self-quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19
You have to quit your job as a direct result of COVID–19
You were scheduled to start a job that is now unavailable as a direct result of the COVID-19 public health emergency
Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID–19 public health emergency
A child or other person in the household for whom you have primary caregiving responsibility is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 and the school or facility care is required for you to work
You’ve become the head of household or breadwinner because the head of the household has died as a direct result of COVID-19
If you work as an independent contractor with reportable income, you may also qualify for PUA benefits if you are unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work because the COVID-19 public health emergency has severely limited your ability to continue performing your customary work activities, and has thereby forced you to stop working
The Secretary of Labor has discretion to establish additional criteria, meaning, these listed reasons may be further limited or possibly expanded
I’m not working due to COVID-19, am I eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits, PUA benefits, or both?
If you had any employee wages (as reported by an employer on a W2) for the past 18 months, you must apply for regular UI benefits. For example, if you worked a temporary or part-time W-2 job in the last 18 months, or if you have your own corporation that pays you any salary reported on a W-2, you must apply for regular UI benefits.
If the amount of wages you earned isn’t enough to qualify you for a regular UI claim, then you may qualify for PUA benefits if you have a COVID-19 reason for being unemployed.
You can’t be eligible for both regular UI benefits and PUA benefits. If you’re eligible for regular UI benefits, you’re not eligible for PUA benefits.
Can I choose between my W-2 work and my independent contractor work if my benefits would be higher as an independent contractor?
No. The federal CARES Act, which created the PUA program, requires that an individual may only receive PUA benefits if they aren’t eligible for regular or extended UI benefits. Even if the vast bulk of your income is from being a self-employed REALTOR® and you picked up occasional W-2 work on the side in the past 18 months, if your W-2 income is sufficient to qualify you for regular UI benefits, you are disqualified from receiving PUA benefits.
If my W-2 income was a very small part of my overall income, isn’t it unfair that I’m unable to claim PUA using my 1099 income?
Yes, we understand that this may be incredibly unfair. Unfortunately, this is what federal law requires for PUA. It might be helpful to keep in mind that, before the PUA program, independent contractors and self-employed persons were entirely ineligible for unemployment benefits.
If I’m already receiving regular unemployment insurance (UI) benefits, can I switch over to PUA benefits if I want to identify myself as an independent contractor or self-employed?
No. If you’re receiving regular UI benefits, you can’t qualify for PUA benefits. If you have enough employee earnings (e.g., W-2 wages) reported to the EDD by an employer over the last 18 months, you would be eligible for regular UI and under federal law, you would not be eligible for PUA benefits.
Could I be eligible for PUA benefits if I don’t have sufficient work history?
You may. To qualify for PUA based on insufficient work history, you must be unable or unavailable to work due to one of the COVID-19 related reasons, and have an attachment to the workforce. For example, if you’re a new REALTOR® who didn’t close any escrows in 2019, but closed an escrow in 2020, you may still be eligible for PUA benefits, provided that you aren’t eligible for regular UI benefits.
Is there a threshold minimum income I’m required to have had in calendar year 2019 to be eligible for a PUA claim?
No. Based on federal regulations, there is no minimum monetary requirement for an individual to be eligible for PUA. However, your 2019 calendar year net income will be considered when calculating your weekly PUA benefits (e.g. to determine if you are eligible to receive more than the $167 minimum weekly benefit amount).
Do I have to be completely unemployed to qualify for PUA benefits?
No. You may receive PUA benefits based on being partially unemployed. However, PUA benefits may be reduced or eliminated for those benefit weeks for which partial earnings are reported. Keep in mind however, if you’re eligible to receive at least one dollar ($1) in base benefits for your claimed week, you’ll still be eligible to receive the additional $600 for that claim week.
I have W-2 income — through a side job or my own entity. Should I quit my job or ‘fire myself’ to become eligible for PUA or UI benefits?
No. Someone who quits a job is generally not eligible for unemployment benefits, whether under the traditional UI system or the new PUA program. There may be exceptions under certain circumstances. For example, if you quit because you either contract COVID-19 or are told by a medical professional to self-isolate, or because you need to be the primary caregiver for a child who cannot attend school or childcare, etc., the EDD is likely to treat this as an exception to the rule that people who quit aren’t eligible for unemployment. However, this would be for the EDD to determine. Similarly, if you pay yourself a salary or wage from your own corporation, we don’t think you could become eligible for PUA benefits if you ‘fire yourself’ from your own entity. The EDD has not provided guidance for such a scenario, but it seems to violate the rule against quitting because it is in your control.
Can you apply for both PUA benefits and SBA loans?
While you could apply for both, there is no guidance regarding how receipt of one form of assistance will affect your eligibility for the other, if at all, or how it might affect forgiveness of a PPP loan. Without authoritative guidance from an appropriate state or federal agency, we cannot provide guidance to you on the interplay between a PUA claim and a PPP loan. You should assess each program’s qualifications when deciding on available options. We will provide additional information and guidance as it becomes available.
Can you get PUA if you’re receiving social security benefits?
Yes. In California receipt of social security benefits are not reportable to the EDD as wages and do not reduce any unemployment benefits received.
Can you get PUA if you receive a pension?
Unfortunately, this is a fairly complicated question that we can’t answer. The question really is whether the amount received as a pension will reduce your eligibility for PUA. However, the EDD has a helpful document, including a flowchart, regarding the effect of pension or retirement pay on unemployment benefits. This guidance will likely apply to PUA benefits as well, though we can’t be sure.
How do I file a claim for PUA benefits?
In California, claim filing and administration of PUA benefits is through the California Employment Development Department (“EDD”). The fastest way to file a PUA claim is through UI Online at https://edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/UI_Online.htm. just as you would for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. The EDD began accepting PUA applications on April 28.
Through UI Online, you can create an online account, provide the required information, and certify for benefits. Once you create your UI Online account, you can log-in to file your claim, certify for continued benefits, verify income and update your information. Information about UI Online can be found at https://edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/UI_Online.htm. You can also apply for PUA benefits by phone, mail, or fax.
For C.A.R.’s step-by-step instructions on how to file a PUA claim through UI Online, visit https://car.org/puainstructions.
Is the application process different for regular UI applicants and PUA applicants?
No. UI Online is the EDD’s application portal for both regular UI and PUA claims. Both UI applicants and PUA applicants use the same form. All applicants will be asked the same basic questions, including about employment history and earnings information, along with some new questions needed to determine PUA eligibility. Based on your responses as well as wage information reported to the EDD, the EDD will determine if your claim is processed as a regular UI claim or a PUA claim.
If I have a small amount of W-2 income and a large amount of income from self-employment, can I not declare the W-2 wages on my application and just rely on self-employment to get PUA?
No. If the EDD has wages reported from an employer over the last 18 months that would qualify you for a regular UI claim, then the EDD will proceed with a regular UI claim for you. This means that if you worked a temporary or part-time W-2 job in the last 18 months, or if you have your own corporation that pays you any salary reported on a W-2, you must declare your wages. Income derived from your work as an independent contractor or 1099 income will not be used to calculate your benefits.
Do I need to provide documentation with my PUA application to prove my income?
When you first file your PUA claim, you do not need to submit any documentation. You will self-certify your total income for the 2019 calendar year on the application, and this will be used to pay the minimum benefit amount of $167 per week plus $600 per week depending on when you became eligible (only for weeks from March 29 through July 25). If the income information you provide indicates that you’re entitled to benefits more than the $167 minimum, you will be required to substantiate that income if requested by the EDD. In general, you may submit tax returns, 1099 forms, W-2s, pay stubs or other documents that show your income.
When I report my 2019 income on the PUA application, is it gross or net?
You will need to provide your 2019 calendar year net income.
What should I expect upon submitting my application on UI Online?
You should expect to receive the confirmation of your application within about two weeks via mail. You may also receive an email confirming that you were automatically registered in UI Online, through which you may access information about your claim and certify for continued benefits online. If you’re not automatically registered in UI online, you will receive a notice in the mail with your EDD Customer Account Number. You can use the Customer Account Number to finish registering for UI Online access.
What if the EDD needs more information from you to complete your claim?
The EDD may call you or mail you a notice.
What should I do if I made a mistake on my application?
If you realize after submitting your application that you made a mistake on your application, you have two choices. The best choice is to promptly try to call one of EDD’s telephone contact lines to try to correct the issue. If you think the mistake is important, such as regarding your income or a factor that will affect your eligibility, you should try to call EDD as soon as possible to correct the issue. If you think the issue is not important (e.g., not saying that you are part of a non-union trade association), you can wait several weeks to get a letter from EDD, then try to contact them by phone to correct the information. C.A.R. cannot advise you on whether an issue is important.
I submitted my application through UI Online, but I never received an email from the EDD confirming receipt of my application. What should I do?
Many members have received emails from the EDD to their personal email accounts advising them that they have an email in their UI Online Inbox. However, many others have said they did not receive any email, even after checking their junk email folder. Regardless of whether you received an email from EDD or not, after two business days or so, you should be able to log in to your EDD account with your email address and password to check the status of your claim.
It’s been over two days that since submitted my application and I still can’t log in to UI Online. What should I do?
Contact the EDD’s technical support line at 1-833-978-2511 (open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (PST), 7 days per week. Please note that REALTORS® have reported extreme difficulty reaching the EDD due to high call volumes, even with these extended hours. Unfortunately, this is beyond our control. Frustrating as it may be, we simply suggest you be persistent and perhaps try calling during different hours of the day and on different days.
How are the criteria for PUA and regular UI eligibility checked?
Through certification. The EDD’s approval of your claim for benefits (PUA or regular UI) will be based on the information and self-certifications you submit during the application process.
What is certification and how often do you need to certify?
Certification is the required process of answering basic questions every two weeks that tells the EDD you’re still unemployed and otherwise eligible to continue receiving biweekly benefit payments. You’ll be required to answer questions about your availability and ability to work, and to report earnings. All information you provide should be accurate, as the EDD may audit any relevant information.
What is the fastest way to certify?
The fastest way to certify is on UI Online. You can also do this by phone by calling 1-866-333-4606, or by mailing the paper form.
Are the certification questions for PUA and regular UI the same?
No. The questions asked of PUA claimants are slightly different. The EDD provides some guidance for UI certification at https://edd.ca.gov/unemployment/Understanding_the_Continued_Claim_Certification_Questions.htm. The EDD hasn’t provided any guidance regarding the PUA specific questions.
Where can I get some guidance on certification for PUA benefits?
You may consider using C.A.R.’s guide for the certification process at https://www.car.org/puacertification, but please answer all questions specific to your situation.
Do I need to look for work to continue being eligible for receiving PUA benefits?
No, EDD has said that, due to COVID-19, you don’t have to be looking for work and, if you meet all other eligibility requirements, you will still receive PUA benefits.
Do I need to upload my resume in CalJOBS to continue being eligible for PUA benefits?
Not at this time. The EDD understands that it’s a difficult time to look for a job right now, so unless the EDD’s instructions change, at this time, you are not required to upload your resume to CalJOBS during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a REALTOR®, I’m still marketing, networking, trying to get deals, reviewing MLS listings, or performing other activities common to my profession, yet I haven’t been able to close any deals due to COVID-19. Are my activities considered work for purposes of certification and EDD’s determination of my continued eligibility for PUA benefits?
The EDD hasn’t provided any guidance on what constitutes “work” for independent contractors, including most REALTORS®. Unfortunately, at this time, we cannot advise you on how to answer these questions.
I received a commission check. Am I required to inform the EDD?
Yes. You can do so by reporting the income on your weekly certification, or you can access “Ask EDD” by visiting https://askedd.edd.ca.gov/ and select “Unemployment Insurance Benefits”, then “Payments”, and then “EDD Paid Me and I Returned to Work, Need to Report Wages”.
If I’m a REALTOR® certifying for PUA benefits, when do I report earnings?
You should report earnings during the week you received your commission check.
Can the EDD audit you?
Yes. Keep in mind that you must acknowledge, under penalty of perjury, that your answers are true and correct for each certification period.
If I’m eligible for PUA benefits, how much will I get?
The amount of PUA benefits are based on your prior income, with a minimum base benefit of $167 per week to a maximum base benefit of $450 per week. The good news is that the CARES Act also provides an additional $600 per week for up to 4 months (from March 29-July 25) for those that are eligible for base PUA benefits.
If your claim is approved, initially, you will be approved for only the $167 minimum base unemployment compensation (plus the $600 temporary addition for claims involving the weeks from March 29 through July 25) based solely on your self-reported income. The EDD will later examine and recalculate your benefits to determine if you are eligible for higher benefits.
If I’m eligible for UI benefits instead, how much will I get?
Depending on prior income, eligible individuals can receive regular UI benefits that range from $40-$450 per week, and an additional $600 per week for up to 4 months (from March 29-July 25) provided by the federal CARES Act. You can use the unemployment insurance calculator at https://edd.ca.gov/Unemployment/UI-Calculator.htm to help estimate your potential weekly base UI benefit amount.
Are PUA benefits retroactive?
Yes, regardless of when you file your EDD claim. The base PUA benefit is retroactive to as early as the week starting February 2, 2020, depending on your last day of work due to COVID-19, and the $600 additional per week benefit is retroactive to PUA claims or regular UI claims starting as early as March 29, 2020.
Do I need to apply separately for the additional $600 per week temporary emergency increase?
No. Regardless of whether you submit a claim for regular UI benefits or a claim for PUA benefits, the $600 per week benefit will be automatically processed by the EDD. You don’t need to do anything to receive this extra funding. The EDD will automatically add the full $600 to each week of current benefits that are paid every two weeks, as long you are eligible for at least $1 in a regular UI or PUA benefit each week.
How long will PUA benefits be provided?
Base PUA benefits may be provided up to 39 weeks starting with weeks of unemployment beginning February 2, 2020, through December 26, 2020, depending on when you became directly impacted by the pandemic. The $600 additional per week benefit, however, is only retroactive to claims for the weeks from March 29 through July 25, 2020.
What makes me eligible for PUA benefits higher than the $167 weekly minimum?
If you earned below the annual earnings threshold of $17,368, your benefits will remain at $167 per week. If your income information meets or exceeds this annual earnings threshold, the EDD will verify your income using other resources available to it to increase your PUA weekly benefit amount. For updated instructions for reporting additional wages for higher weekly payments, visit https://edd.ca.gov/about_edd/coronavirus-2019/pandemic-unemployment-assistance.htm
When will my $167 weekly minimum PUA benefits increase and is this increase retroactive?
The EDD stated that it would begin reviewing applications and recalculating the weekly benefit due claimants beginning in late May. We don’t know if they will roll it out for all claimants at once, or if it will complete the review and recalculation process over time. Any increase in weekly benefit amounts calculated will be paid retroactively by the EDD to the start your PUA claim.
How will I know if I’m eligible for my $167 weekly minimum PUA benefits to increase?
According to the EDD, those due higher benefit amounts will receive details in a notice sent through the mail and the EDD will automatically issue adjustment payments for prior PUA payments made at the lower amount. Stay tuned for more information as the EDD provides more guidance!
What qualifies me for the maximum $450 weekly PUA benefit?
To qualify for the maximum $450 weekly PUA benefit, your net self-employment income for 2019 needs to be more than $46,696.
Will any income I receive affect the amount of my PUA benefits?
Yes. PUA benefits may be reduced or eliminated for those benefit weeks for which income is reported. However, eligibility for benefit payments is determined weekly, so earning income in one week should only affect that week and you should remain eligible for benefits for other weeks you are unable to work due to COVID-19.
In what form of payment will PUA benefits be issued?
The EDD will issue PUA benefit payments using the EDD Debit Card (not subject to a credit check or monitoring by the EDD).
How soon should you expect to receive PUA benefits?
If approved and after certifying, Bank of America will mail you your EDD Debit Card (allow 5 business days for delivery) which, upon activation, will provide you with immediate access to your first payment. If, however, you already have an existing EDD debit card (and there are no issues that require a further review of eligibility), you may be able to receive your first PUA payment within approximately two days if approved and after certifying.
I’ve been approved for either PUA or regular UI benefits, why haven’t I received my EDD Debit Card yet?
Due to the high volume of claims being processed, it may take a few extra days to receive your EDD Debit Card in the mail. To check the mailing status of your EDD Debit Card, you can contact Bank of America at 1-866-692-9374. Keep in mind that Bank of America representatives cannot answer questions about your claim or pending payments.
How can I use funds from the EDD Debit Card?
You will be able to use the debit card as a Visa card, transfer funds to the financial institution of your choice at no charge (automatically or on a one-time basis), withdraw cash at many ATMs at no additional cost, and more. Information on transfers and other EDD Visa Debit Card benefits is available at https://www.edd.ca.gov/about_edd/The_EDD_Debit_Card.htm Additionally, Bank of America has created a website specifically for recipients of EDD debit cards: https://prepaid.bankofamerica.com/EDDCard/Home/Index.
Are PUA benefits taxable?
PUA benefits are subject to federal income tax and need to be reported on your federal tax return. You will receive a Form 1099-G to file with your federal income taxes. However, they aren’t subject to California income tax. The California FTB has said neither the base unemployment compensation nor the emergency $600 increase is subject to California income tax.
If I live in one state and am self-employed in another state, where should I file for PUA benefits?
You must file with the state where you were working at the time of becoming unemployed, partially unemployed or unable to work because of a COVID-19 related reason. If you worked in more than one state at this time, you may file an any of those states.
What should I do if I’m an independent contractor and I’ve already filed under the prior system (before April 28 when the PUA application became available)?
If you didn’t have any employee wages for the past 18 months (you know you’re self-employed or an independent contractor), you should reapply for PUA by filing a new claim through UI Online on April 28 or after. You do NOT need to cancel your existing UI claim. You do NOT need to call EDD about the prior UI claim you filed. Even if you received either a Notice of Unemployment Insurance Award showing $0 in benefits or a notice of disqualification, you may be eligible for PUA benefits, regardless of these notices. As long as you haven’t appealed any of the notices you received, go ahead and reapply for PUA.
What should I do if I received employee wages for the past 18 months, filed for regular UI, and received an EDD Notice indicating $0 in benefits?
If you are not an independent contractor or self-employed, then this means that either: (i) the EDD could not verify your identity with its records (you’ll receive by mail instructions on how to verify your identity); (ii) you were misclassified by your employer as an independent contractor (instead of an employee); or (iii) your employer reported your wage information incorrectly to the EDD. If you believe the EDD’s record of your employment wages isn’t accurate, you may provide the EDD with a brief summary of why you disagree with the notice and information about your wages, and request that the EDD investigate your case. The EDD will follow up to obtain any details or documentation needed to make a determination.
What should I do if I received a written Notice of Determination?
A Notice of Determination is a written disqualification through which a claimant if formally denied benefits. If you believe your disqualification notice was in error, you have the right to appeal within 30 days of the mailing date on the notice.
How do I contact the EDD for questions?
To get information on how to file a new claim, last payment issued, certification of benefits, the EDD has an automated self-service line, and you can call 1-866-333-4606 (available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week).
For general or technical questions such as how to use your UI Online, registration, password reset, and EDD Customer Account Number (no access to claim or payment information), you can contact the general or tech support line at 1-833-978-2511 (open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (PST), 7 days per week).
For help filing a UI claim or get payment information, you can call claims support at 1-800-300-5616 (open 8.a.m. to 12 p.m. (PT), Monday through Friday, except holidays).
What should I do if I’ve been trying to contact the EDD, but I can’t get a live person on the phone?
Despite the EDD’s extended hours, callers are still having a difficult time reaching live representatives for help with their unemployment claims. Please be patient and try calling during different hours of the day and different days. It has become very difficult to reach a representative by phone due to the high call volumes. Unfortunately, it is beyond our control.